Save Our Deer continues anti-culling efforts

Allison Lowe/The Miscellany News.

Prior to Winter Break, the Poughkeepsie organization Save Our Deer (SOD) demonstrated on the corner of Raymond Avenue and Collegeview Avenue to call on the Vassar administration to suspend cullings, or mass killings, of deer at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve. The cullings are part of a deer management program with the goal of maintaining biodiversity at the preserve by controlling the population of deer, according to the administration. SOD argues that the killings are cruel and lack a sound scientific basis.

Vassar first began these cullings in 2010 and has conducted them on an annual basis since 2015 with the exception of 2021. “There have been constant protests, but Vassar keeps the killing largely hidden…so awareness is always an issue,” said local SOD representative Larry Trepel in a written correspondence to The Miscellany News. “Vassar waits until students leave for winter break before closing the preserve in December, baiting deer with corn for weeks, then killing them in January before students return.”

According to Trepel, SOD’s efforts last year against the deer cullings focused on alumnae/i outreach at various events, including a major alumnae/i event at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last May. Trepel also said that members of the Poughkeepsie Town Board have personally asked President of the College Elizabeth Bradley to stop the deer cullings, to which she refused. The College denies that such requests were ever made. “We’re hoping this year that the newly elected Board decides to take further steps to end this,” Trepel added. 

Director of the Preserve Keri VanCamp said that the deer culling program reflected the latest evidence-based approach to deer management. “The deer population on the Preserve, as documented by flyover data and deer exclusion studies (studies that assess the impact of deer on forests), significantly exceeds the density that will allow for forest regeneration,” she said in a written correspondence to The Miscellany News.

She went on, “Without a cull to manage the deer population, the population will grow even further and negatively impact the quality of habitat for other species and reduce biodiversity. The approach is approved and regulated by the DEC [New York Department of Environmental Conservation] and is similar to several other deer management programs in New York State and the region.

Hunter Grogan ’24, who worked at the preserve in the summer of 2022, shared her experience conducting the hands-on research used to substantiate the deer cullings. She said, “In each of the plots we evaluated the number and height of saplings and used the transect method to determine the number of vines and shrubs. We found that in plots…in which barriers prevented deer browse, there was a greater amount of vegetation and, additionally, that more saplings from the year before had survived.

SOD argues that there is no legitimate scientific reason for the killings to take place, and that the College has distorted US Department of Agriculture forest research in order to substantiate them while categorizing the Preserve as a forest. Trepel said, “The Preserve is not a forest, it is a property in a suburban community that offers deer numerous locations to find food, which is evident if you spend time observing them.”

SOD also claims that Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) decimated the deer population starting in 2020, rendering any culling unnecessary, and that Vassar’s choice to continue culling anyway reveals cruel intent. Trepel said, “After several years the disease has finally abated, but killing deer that were already victims of a widespread disease illustrates Vassar’s cruel intent. Vassar’s website currently states that the flyover count last year was just 21 deer per square mile. That was one deer more than their already incorrect public ‘optimal’, but didn’t stop Vassar from killing deer this year.”

VanCamp countered this by noting that the EHD outbreaks did not substantially decrease the deer population. She said, “There were outbreaks of EHD in populations of deer in the Hudson Valley between 2020 to 2022. The DEC website indicated that there were no outbreaks of EHD in the Hudson Valley this past summer. EHD is a very localized disease. We regularly monitor the deer density and watch for signs of EHD on the Preserve. We have seen no evidence that EHD has negatively impacted deer populations on or around campus.”

Grogan emphasized that the human-caused overabundance of deer has threatened ecosystems across the northeast, and that it was the responsibility of workers to prioritize collective health of the Preserve. She said, “Overall, human activity has been responsible for the explosion in the deer population which has subsequently resulted in a decrease in forest health and wildlife diversity. It is therefore our responsibility in a way to correct that, although the deer cullings are certainly unfortunate.”

6 Comments

  1. There is no “decrease in forest health ” for the simple reason that Vassar Farm is not a forest preserve. First, anyone who has been there can see it is not a forest. Second, it is too small to be a forest preserve. Third, it is instead part of a suburban environment, being encircled by residential neighborhoods, businesses, and schools. The science says that a suburban environment can support upto 80 deer per square mile–not ten to twenty.

  2. There is widespread agreement that human population growth is putting enormous pressure on the planet’s natural resources and producing high rates of species extinction. Would we advocate culling humans? Of course not, because our ethical and cultural traditions value the individual human life. We need to begin respecting other sentient beings as well.
    If there is, in fact, an overpopulation of deer, the Preserve should consider non-lethal methods of deer population control, including immunocontraception, which are effective.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Crain. As a resident of the Mid-Hudson Valley, I appreciate the conflicts that occur between human and deer populations. The thing is, the deer have as much right to be here and to live lives as we humans. If we hope to survive in future generations, we must begin to understand ourselves and “others ” differently.

  3. (Am re-submitting in case I didn’t stay within 250 words.)
    My name is Marcy Schwartz, and I am the local lawyer that started Save Our Deer. The essential fallacy in Vassar’s rationale for its deer slaughters is simple: Vassar Farm is not a “forest preserve”, that could arguably optimize at 10–20 deer per square mile. It is instead surrounded by, and part of, a suburban area that can support upto 80 deer per square mile. Vassar Farm is much smaller than the actual forests it is compared to. All of those forests are large enough to allow limited hunting. None unethically bait deer onto their properties like Vassar does, to be mass-killed. Equally important, common sense shows that Vassar Farm is not a forest, as the facts on the ground literally prove it to be instead a disused farm with treed areas.

  4. Thank you for bringing attention to the unbelievably cruel and incredibly unnecessary murder of deer by Vassar college. As a resident of Poughkeepsie, I am deeply disturbed and disgusted by this dangerous, immoral, and insane practice. Let’s continue to make residents aware of the wildly inhume acts committed and endorsed by Vassar.

  5. I agree with Mr. Crain.
    Please look at Fire Island and the ongoing research that they have been conducting regarding the use of immuno-contraceptives & birth control vaccines on deer since the 1990’s. There is quite a bit of success regarding the numbers.
    There are always alternatives to culling if Vassar would be open to having a discussion.

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